Government ministers had their morning meetings interrupted yesterday, their phones blowing up with notifications from whips and colleagues informing of an emergency motion on the US state visit, within a few hours. Blind on the details of the motion, ministers hurried back to parliament to prepare for the worst. A packed commons awaited them in what was to be the most heated debate since the vote of no confidence.
The debate certainly didn’t start slow, with /u/Chrispytoast123 dismissing the motion with a Thatcheresque “No, no, no.”. The Baron Dunsfold continued with assertions that the motion was not only insulting to the US delegation, but to the American people as well, who had voiced their preference in a fair democratic manner. An immediate intervention from the Shadow Chancellor changed the topic to what he believed to be more Labour-friendly ground; racism. However the Shadow Chancellor was slapped back down again with rigorous questioning on his own party’s record on bigotry. The Shadow Chancellor was queried on BDS, laughing at racism and doubting the talents of non-white people in the business world, and if Labour politicians should be allowed to speak in parliament by Labour’s own standards. The questions are yet to be answered, but the Shadow Chancellor (once again) put his foot in it by criticising the member for Essex’s accent, running in contrast to Labour’s alleged concern on bigotry.
What was to be Labour’s coup de grace on the US state visit, was quickly turning into a public humiliation for the Shadow Chancellor, who was looking increasingly lonely and isolated on the opposition front bench. Conservative, Libertarian and Liberal Democrat speeches were met with crescendo roars from all corners the the house, the echoes sounding out the Shadow Chancellor’s complaints; no such enthusiasm was worked up on the official opposition benches.
The Prime Minister arrived promptly along with his deputies, bringing his usual aura of calm and control to the storm, and taking the lead on the debate. The Prime Minister rubbished Labour’s accusations of neo-nazism, and made clear that the visit was about the office and celebrating UK-US relations. The International trade secretary observed that Labour were not being pragmatic, but instead they were “ideological [and] doctrinaire”.
Tory backbenchers followed shortly after their leadership in condemning the motion. Tommy2Boys raised the fact that the UK required US cooperation to tackle Iran and the JCPOA. Walter_heisenberg2 quipped “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones“, referencing Labour’s terrible record on racism and bigotry. The Shadow Chancellor attempted to dismiss it as “whataboutery”, tiptoeing along the border of disorderly debate.
The Shadow Chancellor was then met with possibly the hardest question of his career, posed by the Business Secretary, “Does the honourable member have anything to say?” The question was answered with another question and the Labour frontbencher trying to change the subject, “Can the member condemn saying there were very fine people in reference to nazis?”. The comment sparked furore from across the house but a calm and collected Business Secretary did away with the dross, going onto condemn antisemetism and praise the United States for helping in the fight against fascism, the Shadow Chancellor did not reciprocate the request to join in on either of those things.
Earlier in the debate the Culture Secretary insisted that the UK “should not throw away our special relationship and a long-standing alliance over one President”, a point that is insofar left unaddressed. However, the Culture Secretary was given another intervention, only this time he was armed with a copy of the Telegraph. He explained, for the benefit of Hansard, that the afternoon brief reported the Shadow Chancellor accepting an invite to the state banquet during the planned visit under sunrise, while the Shadow Home Secretary has rejected and invite from Her Majesty. Labour’s principles were being quizzed once more, and they have so far been able to clarify them. The Labour leader has confirmed to the Spectator that they will not be attending the state banquet, in contrast to the Shadow Chancellor’s alleged principles.
Conservative MPs were not alone in their condemnation of the motion. LeChevalierMal-Fait of the LPUK delivered a barnstorming speech, criticising the motion for using “hyperbolic language”, and being “politically motivated”. The MP also highlighted the defence benefit from being a close ally of the United States. The prominent MP finished off his speech remarking:
“Let us in the spirit of Anglo American friendship respectfully listen to the President and listen to him and in keeping with the great Anglo American tradition of free speech enshrined by the US in the first amendment we should hear him. And respectfully raises issues where there are differences. Surely this is not only the dignified thing to do but also the more effective thing?“
The Liberal Democrats took a somewhat more nuacned approach, making their disagreement with the government and it’s plans clear, but realising that rescinding an invite would be particularly harmful to relations. SapphireWork delivered a speech criticising the President Trump’s comments as “ignorant, hurtful, and downright dangerous”, yet asked the house to “consider the wider implications of rescinding such an invitation”.
The motion is now set to fail due to the cross-party concensus of putting British foreign policy interests first, yet the rigourous debate goes on. Labour cavalry arrived to aid the Shadow Chancellor in the defence of the already-dead motion. Redwolf177 accused members of not caring about antisemetism before accusing others of “whatboutery”, in a desperate fluster to salvage any position and further proving their inability to bring anything new to the table.
The paper caught up with a Conservative backbencher as they left the commons late in the evening. He accused Labour of “Taking a sledgehammer to the special relationship” and “behaving like children”. A senior Libertarian MP also said: “the debate to be frank, looks to be lost on the Labour side” and observed that Labour had “lost the plot, quite honestly”.
With the US delegation set to arrive on Monday, Labour must be fast to salvage some respect for themselves. They have snubbed Her Majesty and the President by turning down a state banquet, and committed to the war path of morality by condemning the nation’s closest ally in the commons. It’s a path they chose for themselves, and cannot turn back on.
Note: This article has been amended. An earlier version implied RedWolf177 accused other members of parliament of antisemetism, which is not (currently) true. He instead accused his parliamentary collegues of not caring about antisemetism, despite being unable to condemn antisemetic and racist actions from his own party.
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